Nazi Appropriation of Shakespeare: Cultural Politics in the Third Reich

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For the Nazis, Shakespeare was a major cultural icon, whose works belonged to German culture more than to English and were therefore to be exploited for political-propagandistic purposes like those of any other German “classical” writer. Following an overview of the importance of Shakespeare in German culture, this book’s three major sections investigate the controversy over the appropriate translation Shakespeare’s plays to be read and performed, the effect of the new political-cultural climate on Shakespeare-scholarship, and the attempts of the Nazis to “co-ordinate” Shakespeare’s works on the stage for propagandistic ends. This is the first complete study, entirely in English, to present the total picture of Shakespeare’s fortunes in Germany between 1933 and 1945 in the context of Nazi cultural policy.


“The history of Shakespeare’s reception in Germany remains a topic of surpassing interest for all who study modern European literature and theatre ... when in the course of this long and productive interaction the Germans who speak enthusiastically of ‘our Shakespeare’ are Nazi authorities, ideologues, and frightened or opportunistic fellow travels of the Hitler years, the treatment of Shakespeare in Germany becomes a more sensitive and less happy subject ... This, for the most part, sorrowful chapter in the German reception of Shakespeare is the subject of this study, and with it the author provides a first entirely English, highly detailed, and critically up-to-date analysis of the topic ... With the monograph, the author adds to the contributions of previous colleagues a still more detailed and comprehensive treatment of the fate of Shakespeare in the Third Reich, and provides English readers of all levels with a fascinating account of the basic steps and complex details of the entire development.” (from the Foreword) – Professor Raleigh Whitinger, University of Alberta, Canada

“For his latest book, the author has done his scholarly homework superbly. Just as importantly, he has succeeded in presenting the results of his investigations in a highly readable text that will interest the general reader as well as the scholar ... The Nazis’ concept of cultural policy is central to this text. The author spells out its two-fold meaning: first, as ‘the regime’s policy in respect of controlling and directing cultural activities,’ and, second, as ‘a means of promoting the regime itself by means of culture’ ... [This book] is for anyone interested in German history, cultural studies, European and German studies, German theatre in the Third Reich and the reception of Shakespeare, as well as to those readers whose curiosity is not limited by categories and who just want to read a well-written book on an interesting and relevant subject.” – Kari Grimstad, Professor Emerita, University of Guelph, Canada

“Dr. Rodney Symington’s book is an extremely useful addition to cultural studies of the Third Reich and its arts policies. He is able to illustrate with accurate and insightful precision the lengths to which Nazi cultural functionaries went to incorporate Shakespeare into the Germanic canon. Perhaps Dr. Symington’s most important finding is the demonstration that the reception and production of Shakespeare between 1933 and 1945 was less predictable than previously imagined. In this fashion he is expanding the research of others who have shown over the past two decades that the Nazi German state, while striving for a centralized hegemony over its citizens, was unable to impose that kind of discipline in all corners of its bureaucracy ... Dr. Symington’s clear prose, coupled with his perceptive judgement, make this volume an indispensable guide to how the Nazis used all manner of logic and illogic to apply their racist principles to the restructuring of German culture ... This study, the first of its kind in English, sets a benchmark for lucidity and acuity. It is a most valuable addition to Germanistik.” – Professor James M. Skidmore, University of Waterloo, Canada

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. The Myth and the Iconoclasts
3. Stealing the Heritage
4. The Translation as Sacred Text
5. The Sins of the Scholars
6. The Stage as Battleground
7. Conclusion

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